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Labor, Inc.: SEIU president says unions should serve corporations.
February 14, 2007 2:46 AM   Subscribe

SEIU President Andy Stern says unions should be less like unions. He recently teamed up with Wal-Mart to call for incremental healthcare reform, and has said that unions should assist employers in outsourcing their employees. His union once teamed up with CA nursing home operators to limit the rights of abused patients. This is the same union that promoted this insipid PR campaign.
posted by univac (74 comments total)

 
The first link is to the "World Socialist Web Site" — published by the communist Fourth International. Not sure that communists are the best people to listen about the labour market.
posted by matthewr at 3:06 AM on February 14, 2007


Incremental health care reform?

How can you reform something - most people don't have.

So, if I have such coverage. Will it cover the cost of an Aspirin in the Hospital? Obviously, it won't cover the cost of my operation.
posted by capitalsum at 3:12 AM on February 14, 2007


You prefer the Third International? Seriously, though, you don't have to be a communist to, you know, actually read the articles and think about them.

There's also a link to Outsourcing Today if you want a corporate-right perspective.

@capitalsum: Exactly.
posted by univac at 3:16 AM on February 14, 2007


Sure, there's nothing wrong with reading alternative points of view. But it's not a news article, it's a complete rant:
... the deep fissures within the trade union bureaucracy growing from the isolation and alienation of the privileged apparatuses of the unions from the great mass of the working class ... the growing anger and frustration within the working class ... the utter crushing of the working class and the suppression of all democratic rights

Reading a communist article about the labour market is like reading an Amish analysis of Web 2.0.
posted by matthewr at 3:28 AM on February 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Reading a communist article about the labour market is like reading an Amish analysis of Web 2.0.

Why not just type "Nyah Nyah Nyah. I'm not listening to you because....just because ...you are yucky!".
posted by srboisvert at 3:39 AM on February 14, 2007


I get your point, mathewr!

Maybe you'd also like to comment on the other articles, or perhaps the overall point, which is to question whether workers are served by a so-called union that cozies up to corporations.

I'll get it started by suggesting that the answer is "no." Selling out the working class undercuts the efforts of other labor activists and only serves to advance the personal ambitions of SEIU's president. Look at the nursing home article. I mean, sheesh! They can grow their membership by cutting deals, but at what cost to the employees and to the public?
posted by univac at 3:40 AM on February 14, 2007


First link is to a hate site. Posts shouldn't give hate sites links.
posted by orthogonality at 3:49 AM on February 14, 2007


Unions should not be doing deals with the devil(s) of this world. Call me an old Commie but the union is sometimes the only lever the working class person has against their employer to ensure they get treated fairly and that their greviences get heard.

To jump in bed with the Corporations is a failure to do their duty.

Reading a communist article about the labour market is like reading an Amish analysis of Web 2.0.

Nonsense. If anyone has the authority to talk about the labour market it's the commies. The winning ideology lost the race imo. But only time will tell.
posted by twistedonion at 3:53 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nonsense. If anyone has the authority to talk about the labour market it's the commies.

That's like "if anyone has the authority to talk about social class it's the feudalists" or "if anyone knows about trade it's the mercantilists". Why would you listen to the pronouncements of a dying, failed ideology that history has proved wrong?
posted by matthewr at 4:07 AM on February 14, 2007


history has proved wrong

I probably made the mistake of using the term Communism (which brings up connotaions of the totalitarian regimes). Socialism is alive and well thanks.

History has proven many takes on the Marxist perspective to be wrong. That doesn't make it a dead or irrelevant movement. Far from it. Remember, Marx didn't see Communism taking hold in the places it did. And I doubt Marx would define any of the 20th Century states as being Communist.

But, whatever. Capitalism is working so well for us there's no point in arguing or looking at other solutions.
posted by twistedonion at 4:26 AM on February 14, 2007


Bizarro knee-jerking about wsws.org here. Having been active in the labour movement off and on down the years, I've had some very sharp run-ins with Trotskyists, who I have deep political and tactical differences with, but I am able to read articles written for that viewpoint and address any substance therein.
The US labour movement is quite a mystery to me though, I must confess; such a sharp decline from the heyday of the late 19th and early 20th century. I've read a few theories as to what did for it but I really should learn more on the topic.
Obviously here you have examples of them being in bed with the employers, but you wonder how they became denatured to the extent that this became possible. From my own perspective on a similar trajectory in the movement elsewhere, that's largely down to failures of union democracy and institutional arrangements: it's easier to co-opt entrenched bureaucracies, especially while the membership is passive and not paying much attention.
posted by Abiezer at 4:44 AM on February 14, 2007


I am able to read articles written for that viewpoint and address any substance therein.

But there really doesn't seem to be any substance to the article. It's just a bunch of old slogans about the downtrodden, betrayed proletariat and their class struggle.
posted by matthewr at 4:54 AM on February 14, 2007


that big-ass tab for the Iraq war makes it very likely that nobody will have to worry about the evil of free health care in America for several decades at the very least
posted by matteo at 4:56 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


big ass-tab
posted by matthewr at 5:01 AM on February 14, 2007


Nice to see the fastest growing and most effective union in modern America critisized by the left of rbeing to far to the right and in the pocket of the Capatilists. Why don't we have an effective left in America again?
posted by afu at 5:01 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Communists should be right behind outsourcing. After all, it's tremendously good for labor: millions of previously impoverished third-world workers now have jobs that they didn't have before. If overpaid Americans have to lose their jobs to bring this about, well... isn't that exactly the kind of levelling the communists are looking for?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:09 AM on February 14, 2007


. After all, it's tremendously good for labor: millions of previously impoverished third-world workers now have jobs that they didn't have before.

You don't honestly believe that do you? Outsourcing increases inequality. It certainly does not level the playing field at all!

Think about it. Outsourcing of labour merely cuts costs and increases the profits of the already wealthy. It does nothing for the worker made unemployed in America and so little for the underpaid in whatever third world country the company is exploiting this season.
posted by twistedonion at 5:15 AM on February 14, 2007


Personally, I consider anybody who backed Howard Dean early in 2004 to be a friend and an ally. So I think whatever Andy Stern wants to do is fine with me.
posted by empath at 5:19 AM on February 14, 2007


Outsourcing of labour merely cuts costs and increases the profits of the already wealthy.

In a competitive market, cost cutting translates more or less to lower retail price. Outsourcing is why the computer you are using right now costs $1000 rather than $5000 (or whatever). Lower prices benefit all Americans, including the one who just lost his job.

True, some markets are not competitive, but that's a separate problem.

It does nothing for the worker made unemployed in America and so little for the underpaid in whatever third world country the company is exploiting this season.

An extra dollar a day might be peanuts to you, but it's enough that third-world workers are falling over themselves to get what we condescendingly call sweatshop jobs.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:23 AM on February 14, 2007


An extra dollar a day might be peanuts to you, but it's enough that third-world workers are falling over themselves to get what we condescendingly call sweatshop jobs.

This is true. Time will tell how outsourcing/increased consumption and increased inequality of wealth will play out on a global stage. I'm the pessimist, just don't see it going well in the short term. So much depends on the global economy which seems on the face of it very volatile and fragile. But I know very little about economics so I'll shut up.
posted by twistedonion at 5:56 AM on February 14, 2007


Ok. Slow down. Commie sbad. we know this. right? But we should listen to sane voices like unions that want to cooperate with corporations, or corporlation who run lobbies and run congress?
Fact: labort unins wahy down in membership. Fact:workers losing jobs to utsourcing. Fact: US an d S;. Africa the only two idustrialized nations in the world where strking workders can be permanently replaced by scabs.

And Walmart wants reform in health care?Sure: so they won';t have to pay the tab....
Now here is simple paradigm:
in 19th century, big moneyh guys and corporations ran the country and did what they wanted as they wanted. Then the labor unions got a foothold and presented a counterveiling force. Then the govt saw that in some instances the larger public interest was at stake in some issues and so they stepped in (voice of the electorate).
Now,National labor Relations Board is corporate entity, mostly, and unions falling apart. We hear from The People (union haters) that uunion s raise costs and so jobs go overseas, but then that is in part because companies must pay health benefits (not so in Europe) and that raises costs.

Globalization will loser average income down the road for many Americans and we think this will make goods made overseas unsaleab le. Not so: global market will increse b ecasue more people worldwide will see income increase as outsourced work comes tpo their countries.

Ronnie R broke the union s (what a guy! what a country) when he unloaded (and made unsafe) air traffic controllers. He showed the corporations that they could bust unions. And get away with it.

I amnot so naive to believe that union s are all good and ∑e all benefit from them. But our corporations and govt demonstrate that those who å®´ å©ainst uniøn s and all for big business ahve put in the White House the guy and the party that have prevented a raise in minimum wages for TEN eyars while voting raises for themselves each of those ten yhears. And have an outstanding health insurance plan for thm selves while millions in the country are without.

I am not a communist but I refuse to ignore someone article or someone who takes an outsider's look at a system that simply is not working.
posted by Postroad at 5:57 AM on February 14, 2007


...but it's enough that third-world workers are falling over themselves to get what we condescendingly call sweatshop jobs.
I just love that argument. As if corporations are moving jobs to the third-world out of some altruistic spirit. The jobs are moved there to increase the bottom line. Period. The fact that the extra dollar-a-day is big money to the local workers is merely a handy talking point for the PR department. As soon as they find a place where they can pay the workers half that dollar, rest assured the jobs will be moved again.

Lower prices benefit all Americans, including the one who just lost his job.
As long as he can get that 5-lb bag of carmel corn for 95-cents at WalMart, who cares if healthcare coverage (or the ever-popular "retraining") is out of financial reach?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:01 AM on February 14, 2007


My problem with the WSWS piece isn't that they're "some kind of communists"; I'm a Trotskyist too. And it's totally illegitimate to dismiss socialist criticism of the labor movement, since socialists have been involved in union struggles from the start. But their perspective on organized labor is basically wrong. Sure, it's fine to criticize bureaucrats like Stern, but the Socialist Equality Party / International Committee for the Fourth International line is to completely give up on the existing trade unions in favor of, as near as I can tell, "something else." To be frank, if SEIU or UFCW organized Wal-Mart, that would be a seismic shift in terms of union organizing and class struggle even with the union bureaucracy in place. But the folks at WSWS / SEP / ICFI have been professional sideline critics for a good forty-something years.
posted by graymouser at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2007


As if corporations are moving jobs to the third-world out of some altruistic spirit.

Who cares why corporations are employing more third-world workers? They could be doing as part of a diabolical scheme to engineer a lizard master race for all I care. Altruistic intentions are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for welfare improvements. Just because the hand is invisible doesn't mean it's not there. (snappy slogans like that are fun to write, but I'll stop now)

who å®´ å©ainst uniøn s
I'm not a fan of picking up on others' minor typing errors, but that really is something special :)

posted by matthewr at 6:13 AM on February 14, 2007


Long story, but I almost went into labor relations when I graduated from college. I took mediation and arbitration training, but ended up going into another industry. Anyway, this is a subject that can really get my back up.

For all the corporate apologists out there, I have a few questions: What has made America an economic superpower; what is the one thing we have that no other country has been able to create? Answer: A large and stable (until recently) middle class. The middle class is the engine on which our entire economy relies. How did we get our large middle class? The American Labor Movement. The workers, who never got shit from the powerful, rose up and took their benefits. Had they not done that, we'd still have robber barons and serfs.

Now that we've allowed the government to curtail labor law after labor law, we're heading back to the robber barons. Why do you think the rich are getting (immensely) richer, and the middle class and poor are stagnant?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:28 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


SEIU is an intresting Union. My friend was looking at a computer programming job with U Origon and the possition would have been part of SEIU. Computer programming? A Union job? I was suprised.

I think they're trying to get the "union" thing to stop being something associated with blue-collar and low wage white collar work.

Anyway, this hit FPP is pretty lame. Andy Stern is well liked in progressive circles, he's hardly some hairbrained right winger.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2007


By the way, the word "outsorcing" here simply means having other companies in the US do some of the work for companies, like hiring a janitor company to do cleaning. In the bussness/HR world "outsourcing" just means contracting with another company to do some work, here or in another country. hiring someone from overseas specifically is "offshoring"
posted by delmoi at 6:33 AM on February 14, 2007


Okay, reading through the comments I see no one had addressed the "outsourcing" slur yet, and people really are talking about it as if it were offshore outsourcing, it's not. Here is the quote about outsourcing:
Here is an HR shocker. If SEIU President Andy Stern were heading HR in a large company rather than the heading the countrys largest union, he would outsource a lot more. His outsourcing providers would be unions.

Take the example of what Stern did with New York City janitors Local32BJ. Their pension administration, health plans and operation of health clinic, severance and outplacement administration, training and retraining, employee legal services, and even grief counseling are all outsourced to the SEIU. In handling these functions, one of Andys clientsthe employersend up with a far more reliable, trained workforce. And Andys other clientsthe employeesend up with a higher standard wage, respectable benefits, and a path to portable employment should their employer not need their services any more.
He's is not talking about sending jobs overseas (how could you do that with a janitor job anyway?) He's talking about rather then having a company hire individual janitors, and then having a union represent them, companies could just hire the Janitors union as a block to do their cleaning. That seems like a perfictly reasonable thing to do.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 AM on February 14, 2007


Also, the "Working together on incremental healthcare" thing is B.S. as well, they met once and agreed to work for something that benifits them both: universal healthcare. Universal healthcare means walmart gets off the hook for providing healthcare for employees, and saves money. They've always been for it (as far as I know now)
posted by delmoi at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2007


The ongoing argument in the unions is that one side wants to be more compromising and accomodating with management while the other "old school" side believes that compromise = taking it up the ass.

If history is any indicator, the old school guys are right.

Aside: It's absolutely amazing the hatred the general public shows toward unions. They have really drunk the government/corporation Koolaid for the last thirty years. Companies are laughing up their sleeves watching workers vote against their own self-interest. Add to that the emasculation of the NLRB, and the workers have been screwed.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:06 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]



Reading a communist article about the labour market is like reading an Amish analysis of Web 2.0.


That's because an Amish guy would take seconds to point Web 2.0 is a silly-ass buzzword because people value communities as part of a social commons and not a "market," while people with a pretense toward being kewl netizens will buy into any crap that makes their community look progressive.

If critiques from badly-aged 19th century belief systems strike true, it sure as hell speaks to the intellectual bakruptcy of whatever's being criticised.
posted by mobunited at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


Aside: It's absolutely amazing the hatred the general public shows toward unions. They have really drunk the government/corporation Koolaid for the last thirty years. Companies are laughing up their sleeves watching workers vote against their own self-interest. Add to that the emasculation of the NLRB, and the workers have been screwed.

To be fair, I was always way, way pro-union until I actually had to deal with them. The union I'm in now-- under duress- has absolutely ass-fucked me and really made me rethink any idealism about organized labor.
posted by COBRA! at 7:27 AM on February 14, 2007


To be fair, I was always way, way pro-union until I actually had to deal with them. The union I'm in now-- under duress- has absolutely ass-fucked me and really made me rethink any idealism about organized labor.

I'm truly sorry for you - unions need to be regulated and held accountable like everyone else. But, (and I am not trying to minimize your situation) many,many,many more people are screwed on a daily basis by management than by unions.

Collective bargaining is a human right. Most evolved countries realize this.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:34 AM on February 14, 2007


Incremental health care reform?

How can you reform something - most people don't have.


Most people do have health care. Somewhere between 15-20 percent don't, and many of those are people in their twenties who work but choose not to pay for it because they assume they aren't going to need it.

The problem unions have is that they are forced to argue for improved pay and benefits precisely at the time that companies are shipping labor overseas to workers who have no benefits, horrible conditions, and lousy pay. It is not accidental that the union in question here is for service employees who do work, like food service, custodial, etc., that by definition cannot be sent overseas.

Unions shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the death of manufacturing and industry in the US. They chose to use their influence and power in the 60's to push for pay increases and benefits rather than to influence trade legislation that would require parity between US facilities and the working conditions of facilities overseas making products to be imported here. So they negotiated, and got, contracts under which it was easier to shut down a plant, fire everyone, and go overseas then it was to pay everyone a little less.

In sum, screw unions.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:44 AM on February 14, 2007


My experience with SEIU has never been positive. They're the union that handles the state of Washington's unionized jobs, and for the most part their idea of worker actions is strongly written letters. The pay scale they negotiated with the state is rigid and tops out in the low 40s -- just below Seattle's median income. And from what I've heard from others who've had to deal with them, they don't do an effective job of defending their own in labor disputes.

Meanwhile, the UAW represents the teaching assistants at UDub, and from what I've seen they've done a pretty good job of improving their conditions and pay.

I'm non-union, mainly because SEIU doesn't represent my kind of position.
posted by dw at 7:45 AM on February 14, 2007


The unions in my auto town have the same problem as the companies, what's being called "short-termism".

Just as the CEOs and shareholders are fixated on the next reporting period, the unions here are only fixated on the next wage increase.

Management doesn't see the folly of producing gas guzzling cars and trucks of varying reliability, while consumers keep buying more and more Hondas and Toyotas.

As for the unions, they want to deliver the extra dollars per hour until it has become unsustainable. They should have converted their demands toward job security a long time ago. Today Chrysler is expected to announce 13,000 layoffs. That's just one company.

Meanwhile, Toyota is paying as good or better wages to their assemblers as the dues-paying Big Three workers are getting.

I am a union supporter, but ideology aside, in the real world everything has to add up and the shortsightedness on both sides is just painful to watch.
posted by crowman at 7:50 AM on February 14, 2007


Unions shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the death of manufacturing and industry in the US. They chose to use their influence and power in the 60's to push for pay increases and benefits rather than to influence trade legislation that would require parity between US facilities and the working conditions of facilities overseas making products to be imported here. So they negotiated, and got, contracts under which it was easier to shut down a plant, fire everyone, and go overseas then it was to pay everyone a little less.

Dude, that's not the union's fault, that's our elected representatives' fault. Corporations will always pick the cheapest alternative. Unions exist to better workers' conditions. The alternative is a race to the bottom - which is exactly what we're involved in now. Blaming the unions is giving the corporations a free pass - and they've exploited it beautifully.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2007


Sorry, but I told you this subject gets my back up. Love 'em or hate 'em, Big Labor at least got workers a seat at the table when national policy was discussed. They had sway to counteract Big Business. Now, essentially the worker is in the wilderness. It will get worse before it gets better.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2007


An extra dollar a day might be peanuts to you, but it's enough that third-world workers are falling over themselves to get what we condescendingly call sweatshop jobs.

You don't know how true this is. My (ex) sister-in-law was able to get a classic "sweatshop" job - sewing clothes for a Chinese factory in Bishkek - and this allowed her to retrieve two of her three daughters from the life of poverty and servitude they were living with aunts and uncles in the provinces. Now they are going to school.

I know dozens of people, personally, whose Third World "sweatshop" jobs have changed their lives for the better, dramatically.

I just love that argument. As if corporations are moving jobs to the third-world out of some altruistic spirit.

What difference does that make? Hitler was trying to help his countrymen, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The results are what matter, and outsourcing jobs to poor folks around the world is a very excellent thing.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:01 AM on February 14, 2007


I know dozens of people, personally, whose Third World "sweatshop" jobs have changed their lives for the better, dramatically.

Wow, dozens!?
posted by papakwanz at 8:14 AM on February 14, 2007


img src


I am not a communist

no shit
posted by matteo at 8:27 AM on February 14, 2007


This is simply a press conference about the importance universal health care, it's hardly some huge contract concession. The whole NYT story was about how bitter enemies are united over the issue, which sucks, because it could have been a much better report on health care--as in WHAT ARE THEIR GOALS?! stupid nyt. What is the system they want? that's the meat, and that's what's missing from the reporting.

If leveraging corporate power to produce state-sponsored health care is something unions can pull off, more power to them. They are using the enemy's greed for the sake of our communities.

And if union/labor rights folks weren't suspicious of Andy Stern and co. before, well, we should wake up. SEIU and Change To Win might be the best thing going for a lot of people, and I support their efforts, but that doesn't mean that we have to believe in their overall vision, or shut up when it comes to their lack of democratic process.

Robert Hahnel, an academic and activist, wrote about this a couple years back. to sum it up in a phrase, his point for anti-capitalists was to "hold your nose, but don't hold your tongue" when it comes to working inside reform movements.

snippets from his 2005 work:

Reform Campaigns and Reform Movements

So, unless anti-capitalists throw themselves heart and soul into reform movements we will continue to be marginalized. At least for the foreseeable future most victims of capitalism will seek redress through various reform campaigns fighting to ameliorate the damage capitalism causes, and these victims have every right to consider us AWOL if we do not work to make reform campaigns as successful as possible. Moreover, we must work enthusiastically in reform movements knowing full well that we will usually not rise to leadership positions in these movements because our beliefs will not be supported by a majority of those who are attracted to these movements for many years to come. Working in reform campaigns and reform movements means working with others who still accept capitalism. Most who are initially attracted to reform campaigns will be neither anti-capitalist nor advocates of replacing capitalism with a wholly new system of equitable cooperation. And most of the leadership of reform campaigns and movements will be even more likely to defend capitalism as a system, and argue that correcting a particular abuse is all that is required. But we must never allow others to decide how we work in reform movements, or permit others to dictate our politics. We do know something most others at this point do not -- that capitalism must eventually be replaced altogether with a system of equitable cooperation.



He continues to outline how this approach looks for several movements of interest. Here's the health care deal:


Single-Payer Health Care: The US health care system is in shambles. From both a medical and financial perspective it has been a mushrooming disaster for well over two decades. In all reform campaigns there is always tension between those who want to hold out for more far reaching, significant changes and those who preach the practical necessity of a more incrementalist approach. Usually the debate reduces to how much better a far reaching solution is compared to how much more likely incremental changes are to be won. The struggle for health care reform in the United States over the past two decades is a rare case where the incremental approach is actually less practical than fighting for significant reform because there is simply no way to extend adequate coverage to all and control escalating costs through the private insurance industry. Other than expanding Medicare coverage -- for example, to cover those between 55 and 64 years old -- there is no way to even begin to set things right until we have universal coverage and single payer health insurance in place. At the national level HR676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Bill, introduced by Congressman John Conyers Jr. in 2003, is clearly the reform worth working for.

Only a single-payer, government insurance program can provide universal coverage while containing costs by eliminated the considerable administrative expenses of private insurance "cherry picking." Only a single-payer program can eliminate the paper work and confusion associated with administering multiple insurance plans -- all of which are worse deals than provided through single-payer systems in every other industrialized country in the world. A single-payer system is best suited to use monopsony power to control drug prices and hospital fees. And only a system separated from the workplace and employers' choices about providing insurance can end the strife caused when some companies in an industry who do provide healthcare benefits to their employees must compete against other companies who do not. The fact is that providing health care through private insurance and managed care organizations for profit is so inefficient that incremental reforms that leave those institutions in control of the health care system simply cannot succeed. Instead, there is a much better deal for health care recipients, health care professionals, taxpayers, and the business community as a whole -- single-payer, government insurance.

While there is a great deal to discuss about how best to run a health care system so it is effective, fair, responsive and efficient, there is no way a system in the hands of insurers and managed care organizations trying to maximize profits in a market environment is going to deliver anything other than the mess we have -- forty-three million uninsured Americans and counting, along with spiraling costs bankrupting families and businesses alike. In this reform struggle settling for anything less than universal, single-payer coverage is not only immoral, it is impractical as well. Once coverage is complete and a single-payer is controlling costs, progressives can move on to what we do best -- make suggestions about how to make health care services more user friendly and equitable through regulation of private providers and democratization of public providers -- until a fully public, patient-friendly, well-care system is finally achieved.




So, if we can have a public, universal health care system, like the civilized countries, because of this freakish reformist team-up, i'm all for it. I'm not waiting for SEIU to start the revolution.
posted by eustatic at 8:28 AM on February 14, 2007


Dude, that's not the union's fault, that's our elected representatives' fault.

Yet for a few decades from the 40s-70s, unions got many of those representatives elected. It's short sightedness, arrogance, and corruption.

There is an alternative to the race to the bottom you mention , which is the solution I mentioned - legislate that only products made overseas in facilities that would meet the labor standards of the US would be allowed to be imported.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:29 AM on February 14, 2007


Reading a communist article about the labour market is like reading an Amish analysis of Web 2.0.

If my understanding of the Amish is correct, this carries some hidden compliments to the communists. The characterizations I'm aware of suggest that the Amish are not so much inherently resistant to adopting technology as they are dedicated (rather fiercely) to evaluating its impact against their values before accepting and adopting. The distinction is fine, but it's easy to see in the contrast: we just adopt (often rather optimistically) and see what happens. There's certainly a good deal of progress, but there are also unexpected impacts. The Amish could probably benefit from a bit more openess, but we could probably do with a bit more of that careful consideration in technological and economic spheres.

Who cares why corporations are employing more third-world workers? They could be doing as part of a diabolical scheme to engineer a lizard master race for all I care. Altruistic intentions are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for welfare improvements. Just because the hand is invisible doesn't mean it's not there.

You're probably overstating your case for effect, but somewhere around this point is where well-placed faith in market economies becomes drinking the kool-aid. The system we often call capitalism can and does work, but it doesn't *really* just run smoothly when balanced self-interest slides into greed or other tainted motivations. It just breaks much more slowly. And the invisible hand is less real than the Easter Bunny once you've stopped trying to see if it's really there by at least measuring for the expected effects and benefits.
posted by weston at 8:34 AM on February 14, 2007


I'm truly sorry for you - unions need to be regulated and held accountable like everyone else. But, (and I am not trying to minimize your situation) many,many,many more people are screwed on a daily basis by management than by unions.

I agree; it's not that unions are a universally bad thing, they're just not the universally good thing I once thought they were. My particular union long ago evolved from a group of organized workers into just another organization whose primary goal is its own continued existence and influence (see also: both American political parties).

Interestingly, the place where I work has two unions- office workers are in my shitty union and facilities/maintenance/security are in the SEIU. My impression has been the SEIU people are a lot happier with their representation.
posted by COBRA! at 8:35 AM on February 14, 2007


Yet for a few decades from the 40s-70s, unions got many of those representatives elected. It's short sightedness, arrogance, and corruption.

Agreed. But labor and business were somewhat of a check on each other. Does not necessitate throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

the solution I mentioned - legislate that only products made overseas in facilities that would meet the labor standards of the US would be allowed to be imported.

Also agreed - but do our standards go down to help achieve that? I'd go you one further: if an American corporation goes outside the country to manufacture products that could be/were manufactured here, they would be free to do so - but they would pay a punitive tariff to re-import the products.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:39 AM on February 14, 2007


Sure, this Stern guy talks good about unions and stuff. But his radio show is offensive. Maybe marrying his model girlfriend will make him a little more palatable for regular working-class stiffs like me.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on February 14, 2007


weston: Yeah, I wish I'd thought of something better than the Amish comparison. The more I hear about "Web 2.0" the more I'd rather abandon it all and grow a proper Lincoln-style beard.
posted by matthewr at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2007


He's talking about rather then having a company hire individual janitors, and then having a union represent them, companies could just hire the Janitors union as a block to do their cleaning. That seems like a perfictly reasonable thing to do.

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - Pete Townshend
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2007


Wait, we cant have a post about labor unions without arguing about "Communism"? What is this, the 1950s?

Univac, unions should be less like unions, duh. Innovation is good, remember?

It makes sense to work with Wal on some things and against it on others. It makes sense to realize that auto-workers in Michigan have a lot in common with sweatshop-workers in Taiwan, and figure out new strategies to take advantage of that.

Unions have got to get good at this stuff if theyre going to survive and become relevant again. Even if it goes against a lot of standard-issue 20th century dogma.
posted by Tones at 8:43 AM on February 14, 2007


Wait, we cant have a post about labor unions without arguing about "Communism"? What is this, the 1950s?

We (well, I) started the whole 'communist' thing because the first link is a site run by the communist International Committee of the Fourth International.
posted by matthewr at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2007


Just because the hand is invisible doesn't mean it's not there.

So long as were playing make believe, let's pin all the world's suffering on that stupid dirty hand as well. Deforestation and toxic waste? Blame the hand. Unsustainable farming practises? Monoculture factory farms? The late great Great Lakes? Blame the hand. Sweatshops that force women to have abortions and don't allow bathroom breaks? Blame the hand! Weeeeee! This is fun.
posted by crowman at 8:47 AM on February 14, 2007


FWIW I've reported on migrant worker organisations in the Pearl River Delta here in China, and interviewed women and men working there, and not surprisingly many take a sophisticated view of their situation.
Especially the women appreciate getting away from often very conservative rural backgrounds, and there's some fresh young optimists, but most folk I've talked to have few illusions about their employment in the new factories and do want much better in terms of pay and conditions. I've met farmers who chose to stay home with less rather than put up with the crap life in the city too.
It's instructive that there's a massive labour shortage down there now despite estimates that China has close on 200 million rural unemployed or under-employed. The shine's gone off going away to work for a lot of people.
posted by Abiezer at 8:52 AM on February 14, 2007


weston: Yeah, I wish I'd thought of something better than the Amish comparison. The more I hear about "Web 2.0" the more I'd rather abandon it all and grow a proper Lincoln-style beard.

Wait until you have to debug your first AJAX app. Churning butter is starting to sound mighty good.
posted by weston at 8:53 AM on February 14, 2007


Wait, we cant have a post about labor unions without arguing about "Communism"? What is this, the 1950s?

That about sums up the level of discourse when it comes to unions these days. Thanks to Saint Gipper and the puritanical (and oddly cynical) conservatives that have followed in his sainted footsteps, it really has become "us" and "them", "good" and "evil".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:53 AM on February 14, 2007


In other Labor News...

"Cheney said the president would veto legislation that would make it easier to form unions. Labor activists have said they believe they can get the Employee Free Choice Act through the Democratically controlled Congress. But they have acknowledged that it might not be signed into law under the current administration, and Cheney affirmed their fear.

The legislation would require formation of a union after a majority of workers signs an authorization card. Under current law, 30 percent of workers can request an election to form a union, a process that usually takes from six weeks to six months, said AFL-CIO organizing director Stewart Acuff. Currently, a company would have to agree to allow a union to be formed based on a majority signing an authorization card.

The proposal, which comes up for a vote on Wednesday in the House Education and Labor Committee, would also impose stronger penalties on employers who violate labor laws, and allow for arbitration to settle first contract disputes. Leading business lobbies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the legislation, saying workers should be allowed to vote on forming a union by secret ballot, rather than signing a card or petition."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:01 AM on February 14, 2007


There is an alternative to the race to the bottom you mention , which is the solution I mentioned - legislate that only products made overseas in facilities that would meet the labor standards of the US would be allowed to be imported.

They tried that. In 1995, the Child Labor Deterrence Act was proposed, and a panicky Bangladeshi garment industry promptly fired more than 50,000 underage workers. A lot of the children became prostitutes.

I don't think there's an easy lesson to learn from that; it was, and remains, a thoroughly shitty situtation.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:06 AM on February 14, 2007


They tried that. In 1995, the Child Labor Deterrence Act was proposed, and a panicky Bangladeshi garment industry promptly fired more than 50,000 underage workers. A lot of the children became prostitutes.

What were they before they were fired?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:13 AM on February 14, 2007


What were they before they were fired?

This UNICEF report (p.60) simply says "garment production". That's probably sewing and loom work.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:23 AM on February 14, 2007


hoverboards don't work on water, Tones and a couple of others have made the only useful, relevant points in this thread so far. The trade unions of the 21st century shouldn't and can't be like the ones in the 19th and 20th. The idea that unions are shining knights against blackhearted bosses who can never be trusted is antiquated and needs to go if it gets in the way of real solutions. I think COBRA! is getting at something like this in his comments. As delmoi noted, what Stern is proposing is a lot less horrible than people here are taking it as. If your goal is, say, universal health care, what's wrong with getting corporations on your side? They like it because it frees up a lot of their money, and they can add huge clout to the movement, so why not work together? That doesn't mean you have to roll over and become their slaves. You can work together towards a shared goal while still criticising them on abuses and violations. Similarly, you don't have to be a right-wing corporate shill to criticize the unions as they have been and are. Benny Andajetz is right, they forced open a lot of doors and reforms that wouldn't have happened otherwise, and really did pave the way for the rise of the middle class. But I think it's fair to say, as Pastabagel did, that the unions in the middle of the last century became shortsighted and hurt themselves somewhat, and lost the confidence of the public.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:47 AM on February 14, 2007


Benny Andajetz: "Thanks to Saint Gipper and the puritanical (and oddly cynical) conservatives that have followed in his sainted footsteps, it really has become "us" and "them", "good" and "evil"."

Reagan is dead. Moreover, he didn't make this post.
posted by koeselitz at 9:51 AM on February 14, 2007


Reagan is dead. Moreover, he didn't make this post.

Huh?

If you're decrying my mention of Reagan, please remember he was rabidly anti-union (another case of "OK for me but not for you", as he belonged to the Actor's Guild), and fired the air traffic controllers - a move that , temporarily at least, put thousands of people at higher risk to make a political point.

Reagan definitely deserves mention in any discussion of the state of modern American labor unions.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:03 AM on February 14, 2007


@ Tones:

Innovation is good. True. But I don't think it follows that unions should be less like unions, meaning (as in the SEIU example) that unions should undercut their own workers' interests and team up with employers to fight consumer protections in exchange for easier organizing. That's not innovation, it's a perversion of the principle that unions should advocate for a stronger voice for workers & the public. "New" does not always indicate "improved."

@ ... a few others....

Just to be clear on the chances for real universal healthcare coming from Stern's brand of compromise: he is not advocating for, nor will he advocate for, a single-payer system like Canada and other industrialized countries have. Single-payer is the only way to ensure that we have universal care, as opposed to universal insurance. Universal insurance means handing insurance companies a pool of paying customers, absent any guarantees of affordability or equal access to care. Just look at the Frankencare that Massachussetts is trying to deal with.
posted by univac at 10:11 AM on February 14, 2007


getting the business POV of unions is like talking to slave owners about the institution of slavery.

the "failure" of socialism is not so obvious to me...take a look at South America.

the trend toward worldwide market economies is consistent with the dialectic...evolution is continuing. the alleged failure of socialists attempts like the USSR is the misguided attempt to move from the agrarian stage to the post capitalist stage without going through all the evolutionary stages.

history moves in only one direction, comrades.
posted by aiq at 10:56 AM on February 14, 2007


First link is to a hate site. Posts shouldn't give hate sites links.

Unless it's something I hate.

The trade unions of the 21st century shouldn't and can't be like the ones in the 19th and 20th.

Well. I don't know about that. The current trend in "conservative" tactics is to return the country to the Gilded Age. People like Karl Rove hav written at length about their fondness for these "simpler" times as the the day of America.

It seems only appropriate for the left to adopt a similar Wobblies stance

The problem or Unions is not unique to Unions. Somebody mention above that Karl Marx's "perspective" was proven wrong by history. Not true. His perspective was right. It was his solutions to his observations that were unworkable.

And that is becuase was you form a small collective you can, becuase of the simple geometry of the group, communicate and self correct the group and it's goals.

But small is not very powerful. So you seek to grow. And as gain momentum and become successful you grow larger and the dynamic and geometry of the group is no longer easily managed intelligently. And as your power grows so does the natural attraction to corruption. Corruption happens becuase it's more efficient than legitimate consensus.

Marx was very naive about this. As are most Socialist systems.

The Capital method is no more immune to corruption. It counts on it. Thus the corruption does not inevitably disable the larger system. Well. Not as quickly as Communism seems to, anyway.
posted by tkchrist at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2007



What difference does that make? Hitler was trying to help his countrymen, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The results are what matter, and outsourcing jobs to poor folks around the world is a very excellent thing.


Actually, this argument is the classic pro-fascist "He makes the trains run on time" screed.

So yeah -- it sure as hell does make a difference.
posted by mobunited at 11:17 AM on February 14, 2007



the "failure" of socialism is not so obvious to me...take a look at South America.

Take a look at most of the developed world. Vanguardist revolutionary communism definitely failed, but socialism is one of the most successful ideologies ever. Much of what is passed off as successful ideological"capitalism" relies on regular state intervention, as the US Fed's "too big to fail" bailouts like Long Term Capital Management's have proven on multiple occasions.
posted by mobunited at 11:31 AM on February 14, 2007


...but socialism is one of the most successful ideologies ever.

Not really. Unless: you can grow the shit out of your population, by birth rate or immigration, to support the aged and non-productive classes; Or your aged have the good manners to die early and not drag down the social welfare state with large medial costs; The current form of socialism is not sustainable.

European social states also have to calculate being a de facto client state of a larger capital funded military alliance that can keep the lanes of commerce open so they can defer military expenditures. It also must be noted that the "successful" socialist states have centuries of unrepentant Imperial plunder underneath them that funded much of the wealth and institutional infrastructure they have today.

These are the hidden costs of modern socialism.

Socialism relies on the same thing Capitalism does. Growth. In one form or another.

I don't think humans have invented a truly successful ideology for political and social communities yet.
posted by tkchrist at 1:48 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, Socialism could function quite well in a stable society. Just as in capitalism, adjustments in things like health care and retirement age would need to be made under any particular poulation structure, but capitalism needs growth to sustain its set of incentives. Socialism actually is easier under a stable population model, isn't it? I mean, predicting demand is the bugaboo of socialism, and it gets a lot easier with a stable population.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:28 PM on February 14, 2007


And I don't know what the hell a poulation structure is.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:28 PM on February 14, 2007


No, Socialism could function quite well in a stable society.

Could? But it isn't.
posted by tkchrist at 3:40 PM on February 14, 2007


Who cares why corporations are employing more third-world workers? They could be doing as part of a diabolical scheme to engineer a lizard master race for all I care.
You might want to rethink that position.
posted by Flunkie at 4:17 PM on February 14, 2007


Benny: I was only saying that, while Reagan was a bitch about unions, it's still not always his fault that people (current poster, for example) insist on going all 'us-vs-them.' At least, there was a lot of us-vs-them in the links up there, and none of it seemed very Reagan-inspired. Maybe I'm missing something.
posted by koeselitz at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2007


koeselitz:

Cool. I get a little unhinged about unions, because it's an area where this country has really regressed, and it doesn't bode well IMO. The rich have enough power without giving them back power we already took away.

You know there are problems when Warren Buffett says, "The rich people are doing so well in this country. I mean, we never had it so good. It's class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn't be." (told to Lou Dobbs 6-19-2005)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:59 PM on February 14, 2007


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